By: Judith Cassel

West Virginia did not legalize medical marijuana because it was a popular, progressive movement.  West Virginia passed its medical marijuana act in order to alleviate real pain and suffering of West Virginians struggling from the following conditions:

  • Terminal illness
  • Cancer,
  • ALS,
  • Parkinson’s disease,
  • Multiple sclerosis,
  • Spinal cord damage,
  • Epilepsy,
  • Neuropathies,
  • Huntington’s disease,
  • Crohn’s disease,
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder,
  • Intractable seizures,
  • Sickle cell anemia, or
  • Severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective as determined as part of continuing care.

As a result of this law, physicians in West Virginia, which has the third highest cancer-related death rate in the nation, will be able to recommend medical marijuana, which studies show is an effective treatment for the pain and nausea resulting from the condition and chemotherapy treatments.   Research has also shown that medical marijuana can dramatically relieve the pain and symptoms from conditions such as PTSD and Crohn’s disease, giving physicians another tool to treat these persistent and debilitating conditions.

In addition to treating these severe conditions, West Virginia will realize other important benefits of legalizing medical marijuana. One of the by-products of medical marijuana legalization is its impact on a state’s opioid crisis.

West Virginia is grappling with a growing and dangerous opioid crisis. West Virginia, like many states, has experienced an explosion of opioid misuse.  This misuse stems partly from West Virginia’s high prescription rate, ranking third in the U.S.  Even more tragic is the fact that, as of 2013, West Virginia leads the nation in opioid-related overdoses. Recently, West Virginia has discovered “pill mills” in its southern counties.[1]

Studies show that medical marijuana can be a substitute for opioid prescriptions.  Medical marijuana provides equivalent or greater pain relief than opioids, and has anti-inflammatory effects. Medical marijuana has also been shown to be effective in opioid withdrawal treatment – by mitigating side effects that often lead to relapse.  Unlike opioids, medical marijuana has almost zero potential for fatalities from overdoses.  Studies have also found that states which legalize medical marijuana experience a 25% decrease in opioid prescriptions and a 11% decrease in traffic fatalities related to opioid use.

The West Virginia economy will also benefit from this Act with a $62 million annual lift to the state budget ($45 million in taxes and $17 million in enforcement savings).   Without the legalization of medical marijuana, West Virginia was projected to experience a $300 million deficit in fiscal year 2018.  With a declining coal industry and an unsettled national healthcare program, legalized medical marijuana could provide health to both the West Virginia economy and constituency. On top of the tax revenue and enforcement savings, medical marijuana could create more than 10,000 new jobs for West Virginians.

West Virginia passed the Act in order to heal its people and its state.  Below is the status of states that had legalized medical marijuana as of the November 2016 election.  West Virginia now joins their ranks.

[1] Modernizing West Virginia’s Marijuana Laws (August 2016).